I don't know if it's the best way, BillsBayou, but when the clues don't lead directly to a solution, I also print screen into Paint to try different directions. Sometimes that quickly shows that a particular path won't work. Like Quazar, I also try X=Z if X=Y didn't work. Then I go back and try the other option.
I only use that as a last resort, because most often if you look carefully at the clues (especially the before/after ones), you can solve the puzzle.